A RAAF F-35A Lightning II banks during approach to Avalon for the Australian International Airshow 2017.
A RAAF F-35A Lightning II banks during approach to Avalon for the Australian International Airshow 2017. SGT Guy Young

'Excited, privileged and proud': Aussie tech masters F-35A

CPL Lorna Hill is one of the first Australian aircraft structural technicians (ASTTECH) training on the new fifth-generation F-35A in the US.

One of four ASTTECHs undergoing F-35A training, CPL Hill, of RAAF Base Williamtown, is training in preparation to support the arrival of the first two F-35A aircraft in Australia next year. Her F-35A journey began in January at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, where she spent seven weeks at the USAF F-35 Academic Training Centre.

She said the fifth-generation capability was an exciting change.

 

PROGRESS: Corporal Lorna Hill is one of the first Australians to work on the F-35A Joint Strike Fighters.
PROGRESS: Corporal Lorna Hill is one of the first Australians to work on the F-35A Joint Strike Fighters.

"In the classroom, we were taught the basics of low observable technology including repair and restoration processes," CPL Hill said.

"Low observable maintenance, which is new to most ASTTECHs, requires a lot of concentration and patience as one small mistake may require rework of the entire job and impact aircraft and aircrew survivability."

The ASTTECHS also completed initial training on ALIS, which is the maintenance management, supply, fault diagnosis, mission planning and training management backbone to the F-35 capability.

"The training I am now exposed to at Luke Air Force Base is not what I expected. I am learning how to maintain the aircraft from 'nose to tail'," CPL Hill said.

"Nose to tail means we work on every aspect of the aircraft, from avionics to low observable and everything in between.

"We still have specialists in these areas, but for the most part we will be working on every system. This will be the same for the other trades completing on-the-job-training at Luke Air Force Base."

CPL Hill said there was a lot to learn with the F-35A and its fifth-generation systems.

"I was told by one of the Lockheed Martin maintainers that I was to put everything I currently know about the aircraft in a carry bag and hang it on the door," she said.

"He said I would need that later but, for now, they would coach me through everything I needed to know.

"Working on this new aircraft is something totally different to what we are used to - I feel so excited, privileged and proud to be part of it."

Since the ASTTECHs' arrival, aircraft, avionics and armament technicians have arrived at Luke Air Force Base, increasing the footprint to 20 Australian maintainers.

Scheduled to return to Australia in mid-2018, CPL Hill will help stand up Australia's F-35A Integrated Training Centre at Williamtown.

In this role she will impart her knowledge to future F-35A technicians ensuring the air combat capability is grown, developed and sustained into the future.

The F-35 prime contractor, Lockheed Martin, is currently responsible for maintaining the Australian F-35 aircraft assigned to the Pilot Training Centre.

In addition to sustaining the aircraft, Lockheed Martin assists the RAAF to develop its maintenance workforce by providing coaching to the Australians at Luke Air Force Base.

F-35A milestones

  • February 2017: F-35 Maintenance Transition Team commences training at Eglin Air Force Base Florida
  • March 2017: Australia's first two F-35A jets make debut appearance in Australia at Avalon Airshow.
  • International F-35 leaders visited future home of Australia's F-35A aircraft at RAAF Base Williamtown.
  • Release of the F-35 Economic Impact Report.
  • April 2017: Australian F-35A aircraft accumulated over 1,000 flying hours, contributing to more than 85,000 flight hours logged across operational and test aircraft operating in the US and partner nations


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